Running vs Sprinting – Key Differences and Benefits

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The difference between running vs sprinting might seem obvious. Sprinting is faster, right?

Yes, but that’s only the beginning. Sprinting is a high-intensity running workout, and running is moderate-to-low intensity. Each one has a different effect on your body.

Both have benefits for runners. Running is great for everyday training and gets your blood flowing to boost recovery. Sprinting will help you run faster and burn more calories. But it’s hard to maintain the speed for long periods.

For example, if you’d like to increase your speed, then sprinting is a must. If you’re planning on running a marathon, then running is essential.

In addition to having different effects and benefits, running and sprinting require different techniques and recovery times.

Let’s take a look at running and sprinting so you can start incorporating both into your training to help you improve.

What Is Running?

Most people know what running is. But specifically, it’s a form of cardio that’s great for burning calories, building fitness, and improving endurance.

Running is done at a pace faster than a walk. It’s low- to moderate-intensity that’s done for more than 5 minutes, usually from 20 minutes to a few hours.

Your heart rate should stay between 50 and 80 percent of your max heart rate for easy runs and go higher for tempo runs.

Running can be done outdoors or on a treadmill. Outdoor running can occur on roads, trails, parks, or tracks.

What Is Sprinting?

Sprinting is also a form of running, but it’s fast, short, and usually at around 85 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate. Because it can’t be sustained long, sprints are usually between 100 and 400 meters.

Sprinting is also a form of HIIT—high-intensity interval training. It involves pushing yourself to an almost all-out effort for a short period or distance, followed by a short rest, then back into an interval, which gets repeated a set number of times.

Key Differences Between Sprinting vs Running

While sprinting is a type of running, there are some differences between sprinting and other types of running. Here are the most notable ones.

Intensity and Duration

Intensity and duration are closely linked. The more intensely you exercise, the less time you’ll be able to keep it up.

Sprinting

Sprinting is a high-intensity exercise. Due to its intensity and explosiveness, it’s most often done over short distances—up to 400 meters, but more commonly 100 and 200 meters—and for short periods—from 10 seconds to 2 minutes maximum.

Running

Running focuses more on endurance than speed. You’ll run at a moderate intensity and for a longer distance than sprinting—anything from a few miles to a marathon.

Primary Muscle Fibers

Sprinting and other running forms recruit different leg muscles to power the runner forward.

Sprinting

Due to its explosive, high-intensity nature, sprinting mainly engages fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are designed for power, explosiveness, and speed.

Running

Running—specifically long-distance running—activates the slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are made for endurance over more extended periods of time.

Technique and Form

While running is generally the same in sprinting and other types of running, the technique and form differ quite a bit.

Sprinting Form

Sprinting requires standing more upright than running, with the chest out and the head, neck, and hips in alignment. This position allows for the most vertical force on the ground, an essential part of speed and power in sprinting.

Sprinters also use tight forward-and-back pumping of their arms, often with their fingers outstretched, to streamline and avoid holding extra tension in their hands.

Sprinters land on the balls of their feet and push off hard, with their heels barely touching the ground. On each step, the foot should land directly beneath the pelvis, and the sprinter’s cadence is often faster than that of other runners.

Running Form

Runners lean slightly forward, although there should still be good alignment from hip to head.

Runners also tend to be more likely to be heel strikers than forefoot strikers. This could be due to the design of running shoes—heavier foam in the heel—but it could also be the slower, less dynamic nature of running.

Stride Length

Stride length plays a role in speed, and it differs between sprinting vs running.

Sprinting

Sprinters have shorter, more compact stride lengths than runners. They tend to take more steps at the same distance, but this is essential for keeping proper form and continuing to land on the forefoot.

It also helps maximize performance by providing more power more often to propel the sprinter forward with explosive power.

Running

Runners tend to have longer stride lengths, i.e., they take fewer steps than sprinters in the same distance or time period. This makes runners more susceptible to overstriding and reduces some of the power of the stride due to excess leg movement.

Physical Demands and Training

Sprinting and running have different effects on your body.

Sprint Training

Sprint training often includes short HIIT workouts, strength training with an emphasis on legs, and plyometrics. It’s about more than just running—it’s about building power and boosting speed.

Run Training

Run training may include a combination of different types of running, such as long, easy runs, hill runs, intervals, and tempo runs. Switching up your runs can help you build endurance and stamina.

Injury Risk

Sprinting and running carry the risk of injury, but the extent of injury risk and the kinds of injuries differ.

Sprinters

Sprinters are more susceptible to muscle strains in the calves and hamstrings. These muscles are under a lot of strain as they play an integral part in sprinting’s explosiveness.

Runners

Due to the longer duration/distance of their sessions, runners are more likely to experience overuse injuries. These could include shin splints, tendonitis, joint pain, and stress fractures.

The Impact of Sprinting vs Running

Cardio Health

Both forms of running can have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system.

Sprinting

HIIT is known to strengthen the cardiovascular system by increasing the heart rate and oxygen consumption. This forces the system to work harder to pump blood around the body and convert oxygen to energy.

Running

Regular running is also excellent for cardiovascular health. Longer-distance running improves your aerobic capacity—how much oxygen you can take in—as it forces the cardiovascular system to work harder for a prolonged period of time.

It’s lower-intensity than HIIT, so your heart rate won’t rise as drastically. But it’s still great for building cardiovascular strength and endurance.

Strength Building

There’s a noticeable difference between sprinters’ musculature and regular runner’s body composition. The strength-building aspect of these different types of runs is the reason.

Sprinting

Sprinting uses fast-twitch muscle fibers, which provide explosive power. When you train these muscle fibers, you’ll likely build muscle faster, especially in the legs—quads, hamstrings, calves—and glutes.

Sprinter-specific training also often includes strength training, so the muscle-building potential is higher than regular running.

Running

Running activates the slow-twitch fibers, which are great for endurance but not so great for building muscle. These muscles might get toned, but they’re not likely to grow bigger.

Runners who do strength training on the side may develop more muscle, but the activity of running itself does not build significant muscle over time.

Beginners may build some muscle in their legs when they first start running, but they’re likely to plateau after a few months, and it won’t be as much muscle as a sprinter.

Calorie Burn

Both running and sprinting burn a decent number of calories and are an effective exercise for those seeking to lose weight.

Sprinting

Thanks to its intensity, sprinting burns more calories in less time. HIIT workouts also have a handy “afterburn effect, ” which means your body will burn calories for longer after your workout is finished.

Running

Running may burn fewer calories per minute than sprinting, but you can maintain it for longer periods. The accumulated calorie burn may be on par or even better than sprinting.

Speed

Sprinting is speedwork, so it makes sense that it’ll help you build speed. Regular running is less useful for increasing speed.

Sprinting

Training those fast-twitch muscles means your body will be ready for speed! When they’re strong, you’ll be ready for explosive action any time.

As well as building those fibers, your neuromuscular connection increases, allowing for your muscles to contract faster and more powerfully. This is the mind-muscle connection in action!

Sprinting’s technique is also optimized for speed, thanks to the forefoot strike, powerful push-off, and fast leg turnover.

Running

Running bypasses the fast-twitch fibers and activates the slow-twitch fibers, which are made for endurance. You won’t increase your speed here, although an improved running economy can help you sustain higher speeds over longer runs.

Endurance

Regular running comes out on top if you’re looking to increase your endurance.

Sprinting

Sprinting can improve your overall fitness thanks to boosting your anaerobic capacity, but it’s not likely to improve your aerobic endurance. It’s just too short to have any significant effect on your endurance.

Running

Running, especially mid- to long-distance running, is excellent for increasing aerobic endurance. It makes the body more adept at using oxygen for fuel and the cardiovascular system stronger so it can bring in more oxygen.

Strengthening the slow-twitch fibers also makes them more resistant to fatigue, so you can run longer before they feel weak.

Physical Impact

Sprinting and running are both very similar motions, but can have different physical impacts on the body.

Joint Health

Both sprinting and running are high-impact. Runners and sprinters are prone to ankle, knee, and hip pain due to the shock of each foot strike vibrating up through the joints.

However, both can be improved by wearing shoes with adequate shock-absorbing cushioning and taking care to maintain proper form.

Bone Density

Both running and sprinting help to increase bone density as they’re both weight-bearing exercises—exercises that have you working against the resistance of gravity. This helps to reduce the chances of osteoarthritis and other bone-related health issues.

Flexibility and Mobility

Sprinters need to be able to move through a greater range of motion, especially in the lower body, to accommodate their powerful stride and high knee-lift. Runners aren’t as flexible; long-distance runners can sometimes lack flexibility.

Mental and Psychological Impact

Like all sports, sprinting and running affect the mind, emotions, and body.

Mental Toughness and Discipline

Both require mental toughness. Sprinters need direct focus and powerful, explosive action. Runners need the mental fortitude to maintain focus over an extended period. The more you sprint/run, the more mental toughness you build.

Stress Relief and Mood Improvement

Both sprinting and running result in the release of happy hormones, lowering cortisol levels and boosting your mood.

Cognitive Benefits

Any exercise that gets the blood flowing and gets oxygen to the brain is great for cognition. Whether you’re sprinting or running, you can expect a clearer mind, clarity of thought, improved focus, sharpened critical thinking skills, and better memory.

When Should You Run?

If endurance is your goal, choose running over sprinting. You can add a few speedwork workouts to your routine later on, once you’ve built up your endurance a little.

When Should You Choose to Sprint?

If power, speed, and explosiveness are your goals, then sprinting should definitely have an important place in your routine. It can’t be the only thing you do, but you’ll need to resist the temptation to go too hard.

Should You Do Sprints Daily?

No, sprinting every day can put excess stress on your body. You need enough rest time between sprints for our muscles and joints to repair and replenish energy. If you go back to exercising too soon, you’ll be at a higher risk of injury and early fatigue.

There’s no hard and fast rule, but we recommend having at least a full day’s rest between each sprinting session. Two to four sprint sessions a week is ideal. Mix and match with other, less intense runs, cross-training, or strength training.

Example of Running and Sprint Workouts

Sprinting and running workouts can vary a lot depending on your goals. Here are a few ideas of what you can expect.

Running

Long Runs

Continuous run, from 45 minutes to 2+ hours, depending on fitness level. Comfortable pace, builds aerobic endurance.

Tempo Runs

Continuous run, 20 to 30 minutes, at around 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Helps to improve lactate threshold.

Interval Training

Three to five sessions of hard running (about 90 percent effort) with light jogging or rest periods in between. Increases VO2 max and can boost speed.

Fartlek (Speed Play)

Unstructured intervals consisting of sprinting, running, and jogging. Continuous running, varying the pace in random intervals. 45 minutes to an hour.

Sprinting (Distances Less Than 200m)

Sprint Intervals

Warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of light walking or jogging and dynamic stretches/running drills. Do 5 to 10 sets of 60-meter sprints. Cool down with 10 minutes of light jogging or walking and static stretching.

Hill Sprints

Find a fairly steep hill. Warm up thoroughly, then do a 20– to 30-second sprint up the hill. Walk back down. Repeat this 6 to 8 times, and then cool down.

Sprint Drills

Sprint 200 meters and then rest for 2 to 3 minutes. Do this 4 to 6 times in total. Make sure to keep a high pace through each sprint. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down.

Acceleration Sprints

Do 4 to 6 sets of 50- to 100-meter acceleration sprints. Start your “sprint” slowly and gradually increase so that by halfway, you’re going all out. Maintain that speed until the end. Take 2 to 3 minutes of rest between each one.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.